In the midst of intense fears about President Donald Trump’s expanded immigration enforcement policies, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office finds itself accused of “potentially endangering Americans” for refusing to cooperate with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) holds.
“We were taken a little off guard by this report,” Sheriff Bill Brown said in an interview Tuesday evening. In the document released by ICE this week, Santa Barbara County was listed among dozens of jurisdictions in the country where sheriff’s officials declined to honor requests to detain immigrants beyond their local sentence.
The report focused on only a one-week period in late January. In that time, the ICE report stated, the Sheriff’s Office declined to detain an inmate convicted of forgery. But Brown said his department could not identify anyone who fit that description. An ICE agent clarified the forgery charge is the individual’s most serious crime, not necessarily the most recent. The reporting period represents the time frame in which ICE became aware the detainer was declined, which could happen in several ways such as the individual was rearrested by another law enforcement agency. The report will be updated weekly, ICE said.
The “noncooperation” charge comes as a surprise to many, as the Sheriff’s Office works with ICE agents on a weekly basis, allowing them free access to its databases and to interview foreign-born inmates. The office, however, does not hold inmates after their cases are adjudicated, as doing so would violate California’s TRUST (Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools) Act. To his knowledge, Brown said, the same policy is true throughout the state.
Members of the immigrant community, meanwhile, have begun to gather in churches and community centers to prepare emergency plans if ICE agents should suddenly detain them. The details of each plan depend on individual circumstances, explained Diane Martinez, director of Immigrant Hope, a nonprofit offering legal services on San Andres Street. “Think about every possible situation and fill out forms to cover each one,” Martinez told the 10 attentive participants on Monday evening.
One woman, who has two daughters, ages 23 and 13, asked exactly how to arrange for her oldest to take care of the youngest should she be forced out of the country. Another asked if she could take her small child with her if she were deported. Another woman wanted to know if she should seek dual citizenship for her child born in America.
Martinez went through a list of safety measures: Make copies of your marriage certificate, work authorization forms, and passports; talk to your employer about allowing someone to pick up your paycheck; add a second person to your bank account.
Though it is frightening to arrange these exhaustive emergency plans, Martinez explained it is crucial for undocumented people do so before the Department of Homeland Security’s budget is approved and it receives funding to enforce mass detentions. Legal assistance groups such as Immigrant Hope and Legal Aid Foundation have received many requests for information, though it has been difficult to get large numbers to attend the five workshops that have been held in recent weeks. “People are scared to come to a meeting like this,” one woman explained. “A few years ago, peoplewere told they were going to win prizes, but when they showed up, immigration officers were there.”
These are just one of the fears Martinez is trying to quell. Rumors about mass ICE raids continue to keep undocumented people off the streets, particularly after dark. Latino businesses catering to undocumented people have seen sharp declines in sales, the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics have had fewer patients, and Mexican restaurants have had fewer customers, though to a lesser degree because they tend to serve more U.S. citizens, explained Bea Molina, president of the board of the Milpas Community Association.
“We keep telling people, ‘Stop. You have to live your normal lives,’” Martinez said. “There are so many rumors. Children are coming home crying.” One distraught child was a little boy with autism whose parents feared what would happen if they were deported, said Molora Vadnais, director of the county’s Legal Aid Foundation. “The upheaval of moving Mom and Dad was more than he could handle,” she said. “We can help out to some degree, but something like that … It puts a face on it. For the volunteers, I think it was a real eye-opener. There is really the possibility of this family being torn apart.”
Another woman told Vadnais she worried ICE agents would leave her children on the side of the road after pulling her over and taking her away. “That’s a civil rights violation,” Vadnais said. “If you have a valid driver’s license — driving should not put you at risk in this county.” But, she said, “immigrants are watching CNN and other news outlets. They believe ICE is lying in wait.”
Congressmember Salud Carbajal, who recently met with ICE officials, said he has been “assured that they are not going to do checkpoints or raids. They are not going to go to schools or churches. Even though, Carbajal said, “their message is ICE has much discretion and broad authority.”